The King of Hardcore Games
by Clint Dyer

When it comes to hardcore (read: Impossible) games, one person stands out in my mind as being the king. I’m sure there have been many over the course of time trolls lurking in the background, just waiting to make your game playing life miserable, but none that I know of that are so consistent in making hardcore games. The person I’m referring to is Ed Annunziata.

When I met Ed, he had just started at Sega (we actually started right about the same time) and my first experience with him professionally was with California Games for the Genesis. A game that I’ll not go into detail about, since it doesn’t fit into this article and because I can. So, I’ll skip to Spiderman, also for the Sega Genesis.

With Spiderman, Ed was given free reign to do pretty much what he wanted (as much as anyone is when working with Marvel). The results were the hardest game for the Genesis at the time of its release! The idea was to guide Spiderman through all the different levels, and at the end of each level, fight the boss bad guy. As is characteristic with almost all the games in this article (just keep reading) graphics were amazing for the time, gameplay was intriguing enough to keep you playing, even though you never got anywhere and control was dead on precise. What was different about this game from the majority is that it didn’t get hard until about half way into the game when you reached the Sandman to be exact. How do you tell if a game or a part of a game is difficult? Work in Customer service. I was and this was one of the most often received calls on the tip line for quite a while. No one could figure out how to get past the Sandman, and even after they were told how to do it, they still couldn’t do it! Those who did figure out and finally get past him were treated to even more difficult challenges in the later levels. To be honest, I’m surprised anyone ever finished this game! Moving right along, following up on the success of Spiderman, Ed was given Fantasia.

Fantasia for the Genesis was my most anticipated game ever! I loved the movie, I loved the music (which is strange, because I’m not a classical kind of guy) and the movie lent itself so perfectly to a video game that I didn’t see how anyone could have done a bad job. That was until I played Ed’s game. The graphics turned out amazing (read above :), simply the best graphics to be seen in a Genesis game. The music was also amazing with actual songs (this had almost been unheard of previously) that you could sing words to if you knew the tunes oh and there actually were words to the songs. That’s where the good side of Fantasia ended. Control was simply impossible. The Sorcerer apparently forgot to tell Mickey how to go left, right, jump, etc. because there is absolutely no sign of any decent control in this game! To top it all off, the enemies in the game were so incredibly “mean” (by mean, I’m saying that they killed you without thinking twice on a regular basis) and hard to kill that the game turned out to be more frustrating; despite the great graphics and music, than any other game I have played to this day. To his credit, Fantasia did fairly well for the Genesis and after Fantasia, Ed went onto Toejam & Earl.

Toejam & Earl also doesn’t belong in this article it’s one of the best Genesis games in almost all aspects! In fact, it really belongs in a “weirdest game concepts” article, which, now that I mentioned it, Joe will probably use next issue. Onto Ed’s next impossible game Chakan: The Forever Man.

Again, Ed gets a popular license to pretty much do what he wants with. Although Chakan isn’t as well known as Spiderman or Fantasia, it is a fairly popular comic book and the character is one of those characters that really lend themselves well to video games. And, Ed used the character to its fullest “dark” potential! The graphics again were unmatched on the Genesis. The level of detail in all aspects of the game was just incredible. Control was perfect (apparently Chakan had a better teacher than Mickey Mouse) and the variety of weapons to play with had never really been seen on the Genesis before. Gameplay, however, was another story. The enemies in the game were “mean” (read above) and in this game, there were so many traps and pitfalls and “instant death” places that you couldn’t shake a long sword at them all. A frustrating experience to say the least, but not nearly as frustrating as Ed’s next impossible game Ecco the Dolphin.

To be fair, nothing like Ecco the Dolphin had ever been done before. A game where you control a Dolphin who has to solve puzzles and move objects/etc.? I’m honestly surprised he pulled it off at all to be honest! As usual, the graphics in Ecco the Dolphin were breathtaking (to this day, I don’t think that effect he used at the very beginning when the aliens grab all the dolphins has been matched). Control was fairly precise (or as precise as it could be considering you were a dolphin and the system was as powerless as the Genesis) and it was fun just swimming around and jumping out of the water. If the gameplay were just to do that, though, it would have gotten boring at a rather fast rate. So, he added puzzles, traps and other fun stuff to make the game more interesting. Unfortunately, it’s in these gameplay features that the game lost it’s fun. In the second level where you had to push rocks with your nose to an exact place, the control just wasn’t precise enough to accomplish these tasks without hundreds of hours of practice. I can’t tell you how many times I was just a centimeter off from the center of a rock and it fell back down to the bottom and make me start off all over again or something similar with another puzzle happened. After about the third level, the game just wasn’t worth spending the time on, as much as I hated to give it up (each new level brought cooler and cooler graphics I honestly have no idea how the development team did most of them). But, like all things in the game world, something newer and a bit less frustrating came along and Ecco went to the shelf.

Following on the heels of Ecco, Ed did a couple of other games; Dungeons & Dragons: Warriors of the Eternal Sun and Toejam & Earl 2, none of which belong on this list in fact, it was widely complained that D&D was entirely too easy. Toejam & Earl 2 was pretty much the same as the first game, only more of it and more incredible graphics and more weird aliens and such to contend with. Ed’s next impossible game was the follow up to Ecco the Dolphin, entitled Ecco: The Tides of Time.

Ecco 2 (I’ll call it that for short) was light years ahead of its time graphically. Each new version I saw would bring new, more incredible things to the table and from that standpoint, I would have to say that it has no equal and looks better than half the Saturn and Playstation games. Unfortunately, though (as much as management was insisting on it), Ed didn’t make the game any easier. And, again, to be fair, I don’t know how he could have made it easier, barring some analog/digital combo pad being packed in with the system oh and you’d need a new system for the character animations/etc. as well. Also, to be fair, though, the challenge level of the puzzles and such could have been toned down a bit or at least made more lax (timing puzzles, etc.). They weren’t, though, and Ecco 2 was history. Following Ecco 2, Ed went onto Saturn development and did one of the most bizarre impossible games ever made, Three Dirty Dwarves, although I’m not exactly sure if I’d call TDD an impossible game.

TDD was very challenging, but the gameplay was so incredibly bizarre that I think it was more a matter of just needing to change how you viewed a game (I wonder if that’s what they’re talking about in those Corona commercials) and I don’t honestly know that the world was ready for that. As far as I know, TDD was the first game released in America that had 3 playable characters that had to play toward the same goal on the screen at the same time and 3 people could play those characters or 2 or 1 (Bomberman had more on-screen playable characters, but you could only fight each other). Above and beyond that, effects used in the game had really never been seen before and took quite a bit of getting used to. I had the fortune of playing TDD from the early stages and to this day, it’s one of my favorite Saturn games, but if I picked the game up cold, I don’t know that I’d be able to say that. If I picked the game up off a retail shelf, I’m pretty sure it would have made this list as one of the most impossible games I’ve ever played, simply for the reasons mentioned above.

Shortly after TDD, Ed moved onto his own company and his newest game, Tiny Tank for the Playstation should probably be out by the time this is printed (go to for details). After going to his site, I see that he’s got Chakan there as well I guess it’s hard to give up old licenses, eh? :) Lastly, Ecco 3D has been announced for the Dreamcast (I’m not sure if Ed’s Company is doing this or not), and from everything I’ve seen, it promises to be everything that the Genesis games should have been and more. Time will tell. In the meantime, I’m going to go play Baby Boom at the And Now site (Baby Boom is a game that would have been on this list, had it been released for the Genesis :).

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Last updated: Tuesday, February 13, 2007 04:08 PM